PITTSBURG -- A swarm of orange-shirted volunteers from Home Depot descended on the home of Army veteran Shawn Navel, transforming a backyard full of mud into a landscaped area with a fire pit and covered pergola on a brick patio.
Navel, a former California Highway Patrol officer who can stand and walk only for a short time from injuries he sustained in a shootout with an armed robbery suspect in Oakland three years ago, figures his new backyard will be perfect for hosting a Super Bowl party for members of his large extended family.
"I've got 30-plus first cousins. The majority of them are in Pittsburg and Antioch," said Navel, 31, who gives thanks to his wife, Kesha, for working with Home Depot representatives to make the $10,000 backyard makeover a reality.
This is not the first time the retailer has stepped in to make home improvements for Navel through its charitable arm, the Home Depot Foundation, which has programs that helps veterans. In October 2011, volunteers remade Navel's garage into a man cave.
"I'm extremely grateful that Home Depot is doing this for me," said Navel, who volunteered to serve two tours of duty from 2006 to 2008 in Iraq.
He was in the Army Reserves and National Guard from 2000 to 2010, joining as an enlisted military police officer and leaving as a first lieutenant.
Navel's 2-year-old pit bull, named Hazel for the color of her eyes, sat at his side as more than 75 volunteers from nine Home Depot stores in the East Bay scurried around to prepare the yard for landscaping and artificial turf.
"I can throw the ball around with her and she can run and we won't have mud," said Navel in envisioning how the new yard will change things around the house. He also plans to buy a new barbecue grill to replace a portable one.
Navel joined the CHP in May 2009 after returning from Iraq.
"I chose Oakland because I like the action," Navel said. "When I came back from Iraq, I really enjoyed doing a job that nobody else liked to do helping others." Navel was patrolling on a graveyard shift with his partner when he was shot during the early morning hours of Jan. 20, 2010, while responding to an armed robbery at a 24-hour Walgreens store in the Temescal district. An employee who fled the store had flagged down the CHP officers for help.
He and Kesha, who have been together for 13 years, were supposed to do a walk-through of the house on the day of the shooting. They married on the second anniversary of the shooting.
"We wanted to make it a good day," said Navel, adding that a big reason for buying the house was the big backyard.
The yard makeover was expected to be finished late Thursday afternoon, said Savannah Leeper, manager of the Hercules Home Depot and a regional team captain for the retailer's volunteer effort. "We do these things in one day. It's one shot," she said.
To that end, James Chandler pushed a wheelbarrow filled with dirt into the yard.
"The biggest thing to me is giving back to the community," said Chandler, a supervisor at the Pittsburg store. "We're all here to get the grunt work done."
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.